Intel shows 3D XPoint drives copying a file at nearly 2GB per second

During the Intel Developer Forum 2016 conference in China, senior vice president and general manager of the Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group Rob Crooke showed 3D XPoint-based Optane SSDs transferring a file at a speedy two gigabytes per second (GB/s). 3DXPoint technology (pronounced “Cross Point”) was actually announced in July 2015, a new class of non-volatile memory with better latency and endurance than the NAND technology used in standard SSDs and flash drives of today.

According to Crooke, 3D XPoint is 1,000 times faster than NAND, 1,000 times more durable than NAND, and provides up to 10 times more density than DRAM (memory sticks). However, unlike DRAM, the data remains intact even when the device loses power. 3D XPoint is also different than 3D NAND technology in that it has no transistors, and that you can access small bytes of information instead of large blocks of information, as seen with 3D NAND. 3D XPoint can even be used for system memory as well as a solution for high-performance storage.

To demonstrate the use of 3D XPoint technology, Crooke served up two desktops. One tower had a NAND-based SSD on the inside, and one outside connected via a Thunderbolt 3 port. The other tower had an Optane SSD mounted inside, and another external Optane SSD connected through a Thunderbolt 3 port. The only difference between the two PCs was that one used NAND and the other used 3D XPoint.

Crooke said that with Optane, it will take around 15 seconds to copy 26GB of data from the internal drive onto the external drive. The demo showed that data copied at 1.94GB/s, whereas the NAND-based machine tossed the file from the internal drive to the external drive somewhere near 287 megabytes per second. He noted that this is an “early sample” of an Optane prototype, hinting that the speed could be a lot faster in a final version.

“Now with the growing size of data today, we can see dramatic reductions in file transfer times and loading times. This technology will be essential for any time-critical application,” he concluded.

In 3D XPoint technology, layers of material are arranged in columns, and each column features a memory cell and a selector. These columns are connected using a cross-point structure of perpendicular wires so that individual memory cells can be addressed by selecting one wire on top, and one wire on the bottom.

Crooke explained that each cell can store one bit of data. To increase the overall memory capacity of the resulting device, these “grids” can be stacked on top of each other in three dimensions. The cells themselves can be written to and read from by varying the amount of voltage sent to each selector. This eliminates the need for transistors, which in turn reduces cost and increases capacity.

Crooke said that ultimately pattern recognition, deep learning, and genome sequencing would benefit from this technology, and that 3D XPoint is the single biggest memory advancement in over 20 years.

To see Crooke’s entire 8-minute presentation, check out the embedded video above!